Here are four common shoulder injuries where you might need to see an orthopaedic surgeon – including a frozen shoulder – and how they can be treated.
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body – but also the most unstable, explains British- and Australian trained consultant orthopaedic surgeon, DR ALAN CHEUNG. “The complex system of tendons and muscles around the shoulder means that if one thing goes wrong, something else typically goes wrong as well!”
For this reason, he has seen plenty of shoulder injuries in his practice, and in his experience as Team Doctor for the Singapore Cycling Foundation and Ringside Doctor for ONE Championship. Some of the most common shoulder injuries he treats include:
#1 Shoulder dislocation
“A dislocated shoulder typically starts with a fall on an outstretched arm, knocking the ball of the shoulder out of its socket,” says Dr Cheung. “If you’re lucky, it will slip back into its normal position quickly. But, if it remains out of place, you’ll need to go to the Emergency Department to relocate the joint.”
Aside from the pain and inconvenience, the main problem with this type of injury is that it tends to recur – particularly in contact sports – leaving you with a persistently unstable shoulder. The younger you are when you dislocate your shoulder, the more likely it is to happen again. In fact, the recurrence rate is around 80 percent in people under 30.
To stabilise the shoulder, you’ll likely need the “Bankart Repair”, a surgical procedure – now done as keyhole surgery – in which the worn-out ligaments are reattached to the joint.
#2 Fractured collarbone
The collarbone, or clavicle, is a long, thin bone that acts as a support beam between the arm and the sternum. It’s one of the most commonly fractured bones in the body, says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Cheung.
Excessive force from a fall can break the collarbone, making this type of injury particularly common in cyclists, martial artists and jockeys.
Most collarbone fractures don’t require surgical treatment and can be managed with a sling, rest and physiotherapy. However, surgery may be necessary for athletes with displaced fractures, where the bone fragments have shifted out of place.
#3 Rotator cuff tear
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help it to move. When the tendons are damaged – either from a fall or repeated muscle overuse in racquet sports like tennis – you can expect pain and limited shoulder movement.
Dr Cheung usually recommends physiotherapy as the first line of treatment. But, if non-surgical methods don’t work, he says surgery can be performed to re-stitch the tissue to the bone.
#4 Frozen shoulder
As the name suggests, this condition literally freezes your shoulder, preventing you from lifting your arm above shoulder height.
A build-up of inflamed scar tissue kicks off the initial “freezing” phase, a painful period in which the shoulder stiffens.
While your shoulder may eventually “thaw”, Dr Cheung says it can take between one and three years to go back to normal. Therefore, early intervention with physiotherapy and corticosteroid injections is key to limiting the course of the condition. In severe cases, surgical treatment to remove scar tissue may be required.
See a specialist!
No matter what type of shoulder injury you’ve got, if you’re in pain and your daily life is affected, Dr Cheung recommends seeing a sports injury specialist to investigate further and help relieve your pain.
This article first appeared in the April 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!